Ahh the age old battle of Head Vs. Heart!
Most nights before bed I have one to one chats with my kids in the comfort of their own rooms. The topics vary wildly, especially with my 6 year old who has the most vivid ‘imaginarium’ but last week she talked to me about how some kids at school had said untrue/unkind things to her and she was upset. This immediately made me think of the saying ‘sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me’ – nice sentiment but in reality words can and do hurt and it takes enormous self confidence or courage to genuinely not care. How can we control those feelings?
Mindful that I’d always been guided to ‘not care what other people think’ but never actually taught how to navigate through my complex thoughts and feelings (deep down I’m a sensitive soul rattled by unkind words or actions) I thought about how can I make a difference in my kids lives. To teach them how to deflect the inevitable unkindness of other children. To teach them how to control their unhelpful feelings Here’s my approach:
- I talk to them about what the words actually mean and how true they are– what happens when someone says ‘you’re a poo poo head’ when in reality this simply isn’t true. Just getting them to think about the lack of truth in the words empowers them whilst at the same time it devalues the words.
- I talk about the intention of the people using the words– again focusing on removing any power from the person’s intention and giving it to my kids. They want to make my kid feel sad or angry, to get a response…. Simply by not giving any response other than a positive response it takes the other kid by surprise. Taking the wind out of their sails. I encourage my kids to feel sorry for the other children for having such unkind intentions.
- I get them to focus on what is truly great about them.I get them to say it out loud with their head literally held high, stood tall and strong! With my clients it’s a first session exercise I call ‘At my best I…..’. It’s a very empowering exercise to remind yourself what you are great at! Remember, all feelings come from our thoughts and if we think about what we are good at we will feel good!
- Finally, we practice, practice, practice…..I told my daughter to say something not nice to me and I role played various response from shrugging my shoulders in a ‘so what’ fashion to saying ‘wow what unkind words, I’m sorry you don’t have anything better to say’.
The more ridiculous the insults got the more animated and confident she became and then my son (hearing us laughing) came to join in. We belly laughed as their responses became more creative, stripping the unkind statements of their ability to hurt our feelings or offend. At no point using a nasty retort but instead their self-confidence and sense of humour to dissolve the unkindness. In response to my telling my son ‘your mummy is fat and stinky’ he said ‘I know, its such a shame for her’ – oh how we REALLY laughed at this one!!!
As they grow older and in the challenging world of social media I know we’ll need to practice some more and at times the words will just be too unkind to stop the hurt but it’s a life lesson that I wish I’d learned decades ago.
If you or your child would like some support with this please get in touch.
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